Is Driving While Texting More Dangerous Than Driving Under the Influence?
Driving While Texting (“DWT”) has become a significant concern for law enforcement officials across the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates nearly 2 million drivers are involved in crashes yearly while texting or emailing while driving. As a result of these incidents, 3,142 people were killed in 2020. Some wonder if it is becoming as dangerous as driving under the influence.
What Does “DWT” Stand For?
“DWT” stands for “Driving While Texting.” DWT is part of a more significant problem in today’s world, referred to as distracted driving. Any activity that takes away from your ability to focus on driving safely is dangerous. This includes talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, and fiddling with your car’s knobs, features, or panels.
However, texting is the most dangerous distraction, regardless of how you text. Sending or viewing a text can impede your reaction time. The consequences can be life changing if you lose focus for even a few seconds.
DWT: Driving While Texting Is the New DUI
In some ways, driving while texting can be considered “the new drunk driving.” DWT affects hundreds of drivers in California each day, if not more. Although a person may not be intoxicated when texting, their mind is not in the same state it would be if they were not focused on cell phone usage. According to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nine people are killed in the U.S. per day in collisions that involve a distracted driver.
However, none of this is meant to diminish the seriousness of the drunk driving epidemic, which is far from over in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that each day, around 32 people die in drunk-driving crashes in the U.S.
Deaths caused by distracted or drunk drivers are preventable. All these deaths are a tragedy.
Texting And Driving May Be More Dangerous Than Drunk Driving
Distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and perhaps even more so. If people shouldn’t drink and drive, they also shouldn’t text and drive. What does distracted driving mean to California motorists?
Drivers between 15-20 years have the highest rates of distraction-related crashes. Drivers between the ages of 25-34 have the highest fatal crashes. However, although age appears to be a factor, this is not just an age issue. Everyone on the road is at risk and can benefit from distraction-free driving.
In a 2019 survey conducted by the CDC, 39% of high school students emailed or texted while driving in the last month. There was no significant relationship between students’ grades and their likelihood of engaging in dangerous driving. In fact, these students were less likely to wear a seatbelt, more likely to ride with a driver who had been drinking, and more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol.
The majority of people surveyed know their behavior is wrong or dangerous. But they fear missing out on something or believe the texting will only take a moment.
To put things in perspective, consider a study conducted by Car and Driver, which measured how drivers’ reaction times were impacted by texting and driving versus drunk driving. The publication used a car fitted with a windshield light to simulate a car’s brake lights. A driver was supposed to hit the brakes when the light went on.
The study considered the baseline reaction times of two people when they both had a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content and when they were both sober but texting. For one of the test subjects, while driving at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet before breaking while reading a text, and it took another 16 feet to brake while he was texting. The results were even worse at 70 mph. The numbers were not much different compared to delayed reaction times while driving drunk.
The second individual was even worse at 35 mph; whether reading or typing a text, his average baseline reaction time about tripled. This caused him to travel an extra 40+ feet before braking. His reaction time after drinking was in a similar range. The results at 70 mph were similarly poor.
One of the biggest realizations from the study was that there was no significant difference in the effect on a person’s reaction time, whether they were under the influence of alcohol or texting.
Texting And Driving Is Illegal In California
California has recognized the enormous risk posed by texting while driving and makes it illegal to drive using a cell phone or electronic communication device in your hand. A person may only use their device in a hands-free manner, and any driver under 18 is not permitted to use a mobile phone for any reason, even if hands-free.
There are some exceptions. For example, California law does not prohibit someone using a their phone for emergency purposes, such as calling the police, 911, calling for medical professionals, fire department, or other emergency services. California Vehicle Code Sections 23123 to 23125 are the applicable statutes that apply to driving and using wireless devices.
California law also allows a handheld wireless device to be operated by a driver’s hand if the device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield. Alternatively, it may be in a vehicle’s dashboard or center console if it allows the driver to see the road.
Consequences of a DWT
Assuming no one is injured due to a person’s DWT, the consequences are usually the imposition of a fine. A first offense is $20, and subsequent offenses are $50 each. While these may not seem significant, court costs can triple those fines.
But, you may face more than a few hundred dollars of fines in certain circumstances. A district attorney or prosecutor may try to charge you with reckless driving. Under California Vehicle Code [CVC] §23103(a), it is illegal to drive a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for people’s or property’s safety. The consequences can include ninety days in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. With court costs, this will likely be much more.
To be guilty of reckless driving, a person must be driving on a highway or off-street parking facility and be driving with a wanton disregard for safety. In some circumstances where a person has been texting while driving or has a history of violations, a prosecutor may try to push to convict them of this additional crime. Exacerbating factors are where a person is speeding, may have been drinking, injured someone or property, or had a person under age 14 in the car.
Finally, you may find yourself involved in a personal injury lawsuit due to a DWT. In California, negligence is defined as failing to use reasonable care to prevent harm to yourself or someone else. If another person’s injury is the result of a car accident caused by you while you were engaging in negligent behavior, you may find yourself liable for damages.
If you guilty of violating one of California’s laws mentioned above, this may be considered negligence per se, and you can be presumed negligent. This is an avoidable consequence of a DWT, and you can take steps today to avoid being one of the many distracted drivers out on the road.
Wait to Send That Text
Life may feel busy, and you may be in a hurry to send a message. But life can also change in an instant. Texting takes your focus away from the road for around five seconds. This is enough time to miss seeing a driver ahead that hit their brakes, not see someone who has stepped out onto the road or veer out of your lane.
Sending a text is not as important as someone’s life. The solution is simple — make distraction-free driving a priority and wait to send that text.
Some Easy Safety Tips
There are simple things you can practice to avoid a DWT:
- Don’t hold your cell phone while driving
- Mount any GPS to your dashboard in a manner that doesn’t block your view
- Take advantage of the “do not disturb” feature on your phone while driving
- Don’t use any apps while driving
- Pull over to send a text
- Avoid calling others if you know they’re driving
- Keep your phone out of reach in the car
- Don’t use your phone to make videos or take photos while driving- dash cams are an alternative
Following just a few of these tips can prevent serious injury to others or yourself.
Drinking and Driving Is Illegal In California
It is important not to lose sight of the fact that drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs is still illegal in California. A DUI can impact your life immensely and lead to a misdemeanor or even a felony on your record. Alcohol or drug-related convictions can make accomplishing your professional and personal goals challenging. You can also seriously hurt others.
California Vehicle Code Section 23152 is the statute that makes driving illegal under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is applicable to bother commercial and passenger vehicles. A person should never drive:
- When they are under the influence of an alcoholic beverage
- If their blood-alcohol content is .08% or greater while operating a passenger vehicle
- If they are addicted to using any drug, except where they are participating in an approved narcotic treatment program
- If their blood-alcohol concentration is .04% or more while operating a commercial vehicle
- If they are under the influence of any drug
- If they are under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs
You should avoid getting in any vehicle if you have had any alcohol or consumed drugs.
Consequences of a DUI
The consequences of a DUI can be severe. For a first offense misdemeanor, you could get up to 6 months jail time, 3-5 years of probation, a suspended or restricted drivers license, have to pay fines and penalties, be required to carry special insurance, attend DUI school and install an ignition interlock device on your car.
Between legal fees, fines, and court penalties, you could spend upwards of $10,000 on dealing with a DUI. The consequences only worsen with each subsequent offense or if you are charged with a felony DUI.
Get Solid Advice From An Experienced California DUI Attorney
If you have been involved in a DWI or a DUI, you should speak with an experienced California DUI attorney. You may have defenses to the charges you are facing or may be able to get them reduced to less impactful charges. An experienced attorney can evaluate your case and discuss your options with you. Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.